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Don’t Forget to Forgive

Tips to help build forgiveness skills

From the CONCERN: EAP Resilience Library

As the old saying goes, forgiveness may be divine, and if recent research is right, it may also be healthy.

Recent studies indicate that holding a grudge can trigger a prolonged physical stress response—one that can lead to health complications and inhibit emotional and physical healing. On the flip side, letting go of grudges and bitterness has been shown to lead to healthier relationships, greater psychological well-being, less anxiety and stress, lower blood pressure, and higher self-esteem.

Forgiveness is the practice of letting go of thoughts of resentment and revenge. Dr. Fred Luskin, Director of the Stanford Forgiveness Project, notes that though most of us are not “schooled” in this practice, it can be learned as a skill.

Here are a few tips to help build forgiveness skills.

  1. Start by forgiving yourself. When we make amends and forgive ourselves, we naturally develop compassion and empathy towards others.
  2. Ask for forgiveness. By asking for forgiveness, we inspire others to rise to their own humanity. You might start by simply saying, “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.” Without making excuses, tell the person what caused you to do or say what you did. For example, “I was feeling threatened by your feedback, and lashed out without thinking.” Make it clear that you understand how that must have made them feel, and accept responsibility for your actions.
  3. Seek to understand. Don’t jump to conclusions about character or motive and realistically examine what led to the problem. By understanding what prompted the person to act in a certain way may help guide your actions and avoid similar conflict in the future.
  4. Understand and express what you feel. Think about why the situation is not okay, practice articulating that, and then share your experience with a someone you trust.
  5. Remember it’s to make you feel better. Forgiveness is for you and no one else.
  6. Practice a simple stress reduction method. In moments of upset, take a 5-minute break to relax and soothe your body’s fight-or-flight response.
  7. Focus on the positive. Forgiveness is about personal power. Look for something positive in the situation, in yourself, or in someone else rather than focusing on old wounds.
  8. Practice. Establish forgiveness as a value in your life. Start with small things, let go of little slights and assume the best of others. Practice forgiveness every day so that over time it becomes a habit.

Remember, there is power in the act of forgiveness. It can be transformative for those you care about and for yourself.

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